MALTA, NY – Marc Johnson almost felt bad about winning Friday night’s 35-lap modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
Johnson, the 2016 point champion, used lapped traffic to catch up with his good friend, Rocky Warner, and then rocketed around “The Flying Squirrel” coming out of the fourth turn for the final time to pick up his first victory of the season.
“Rocky is a good friend of mine and I’d like to see him win,” said Johnson, who then added, “but not today.”
The feature was plagued by a number of early incidents that took out some major players.
On lap 3, second-year driver Jack Lehner got around in the backstretch, and John Bellinger, subbing in his son’s Bodie’s car while the younger Bellinger recovers from injuries suffered in an ATV accident, slammed into Lehner’s car and flipped twice, ending up on his side.
Defending modified champion Brett Hearn was also caught up in that incident and after some hasty repairs to the front end of his car, returned to the field. But his car was never the same.
Two laps later, Matt Depew spun in the second turn and Ronnie Johnson slammed into him. The damage to Johnson’s car was sufficient enough that he was done for the night.
Warner had moved up to second from his sixth starting position by the time of the restart on lap four, and the next time around, he drove by leader Matt Puppelo to take the lead.
It was smooth sailing for a while, as Warner opened up a full straightaway lead on Neil Stratton. Meanwhile, Marc Johnson, who had started 11th, had carefully made his way through the field, and took over the No. 2 spot on lap 15.
Both Warner and Johnson then had to navigate through lapped traffic, and Johnson was slowly catching the leader. With five laps left, Warner’s lead was down to about four car lengths, and he had the cars of Jackie Brown Jr. and Don Ronca running side-by-side in front of him.
On lap 32, Warner finally squeezed by Ronca on the inside, and Johnson followed him through the hole. Suddenly, Johnson was right on Warner’s rear bumper.
Coming down the backstretch for the final time, Warner found his path blocked by Brown, and Johnson switched to the top. Brown drifted just high enough to give Warner some room on the inside heading into the fourth turn and both Warner and Johnson cleared Brown at the same time. But Johnson had enough momentum coming out of the turn to beat Warner to the finish line by a car length.
Stratton came across the finish line third, with Stewart Friesen fourth and Pupello fifth.
Friesen was at Albany-Saratoga as a tune-up for Wednesday night’s completion of the rain-delayed “Come ‘N Get It” Modified Shootout. Friesen started 15th Friday night and was a half-a-track behind Warner midway through the race. But he made up a lot of ground in the final 10 laps to finish fourth.
Although Warner didn’t get the win, he was happy with second place. In the first three races of the season, he hadn’t even gotten into the top 10.
“This is great, for me,” he said. “The car was fast and I felt really comfortable. And [Johnson] is one of the best here. But those lapped cars running side-by-side killed me.”
WhileWarner didn’t get his first career win at Malta, Derek Bornt got his, in the 25-lap sportsman feature, which was plagued by a number of cautions. Bornt, who had started 11th, moved into second on lap 13 and set his sights on leader Nick Lussier. Lussier stayed on top, while Bornt hugged the inside. A caution on lap 17 bunched the field, and two laps later, Bornt and Lussier made contract in the first turn, with Bornt coming away with the lead.
Bornt then drove away for the win, which was worth $1,000 thanks to sponsorship from Greg’s Towing. Justin Buff was second, Connor Cleveland got up for third, Andrew Buff finished fourth, while Lussier slipped to fifth.
UPDATE: Derek Bornt’s victory celebration Friday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway ended in disappointment.
Bornt appeared to win the 25-lap sportsman feature, recording what would have been the first win of his career. But on Saturday morning, track promoter Lyle DeVore announced that Bornt’s car has failed to pass the post-race inspection, and Bornt was disqualified.
The disqualification gave the victory, which was worth $1,000 through sponsorship from Greg’s Towing, to second-place finisher Justin Buff. The revised top five consisted of Buff, Connor Cleveland, Andrew Buff, Nick Lussier and Jeremy Pitts.
Rob Yetman proved to be a super substitute in the pro-stock feature. Subbing for Chucky Dumblewski, Yetman, who isn’t racing fulltime at Albany-Saratoga this season, recorded his first win of the season. Yetman, who started 14th, used a couple of restarts to move to the front and then had a whale of a battle with Nick Stone and Nick Arnold.
With five laps to go, the lead group was essentially running three-wide, with Yetmen in the middle. He bounced off Arnold in the middle of the second turn, and then went high around Stone going down the backstretch to take the lead for good.
Josh Coonradt got up for second, with Dan Older third.
“Chuck has a hell of a car,” said Yetman after recording his 24th career win at Albany-Saratoga. “I don’t know how he doesn’t win every week in this thing.”
Defending track champion Randy Miller always saves his best for the big street stock races at Albany-Saratoga, and Friday was no different. He easily won the 20-lap Lake Auto/Meltz Lumber Street Stock Special, which paid $500 to win. The victory was the 47th of Miller’s career at Malta.
“I knew I wanted to get to the front, and I knew I had to stay out of trouble,” said Miller. “I wanted to get another of those Meltz Lumber saw blades.”
Dave Richer chalked up his first win of the season in the 20-lap Haun Welding limited sportsman feature. Richer was running third with five laps to go, but first overtook David Boisclair for second and then ricocheted off Bill August, after August got trapped behind a lapped car, coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap to get the win, while August was spun around and went from a top-two finish to 21st. Thomas Van Vorst Sr. finished third.
In four cylinder action, David Frame held off Jason Lang to get the win, while Wayne Russell had the first single-cam car across the finish line.
MODIFIEDS: Marc Johnson, Rocky Warner, Neil Stratton, Stewart Friesen, Matt Pupello, C.G. Morey, Kris Vernold, Matt DeLorenzo, Keith Flach, Brett Hearn, Peter Britten, Jessey Mueller, Ken Tremont Jr., Jackie Brown Jr., Don Ronca, Elmo Reckner, Bobby Hackel IV, Brian Berger, Justin Barber, Don Mattison, Olden Dwyer, Matt Depew, Ronnie Johnson, Jim Nagle, Jack Lehner, John Bellinger.
SPORTSMAN: Justin Buff, Connor Cleveland, Andrew Buff, Nick Lussier, Jeremy Pitts, Pat Jones, Tim Hartman Jr., Travis Billington, Dave Baranowski Jr., Derrick McGrew Jr., Fred Proctor, Marty Kelly III, Elliot Lussier, Scott Duell, Jon Miller, Jason Gray, Joey Scarborough, Mike Coffey Jr., Robert Bublak, Floyd Billington, KC McCoy, Daryl Nutting, Tony Ballestero, Chris Ronca, Mike Ostrander, Kale Groff, Brian Calabrese, James Meehan, Stephen Kneer, Rob Maxon, Jack Speshock, Chris Johnson, Michael Wagner Fitzgerald, Jim Osgood, DEREK BORNT DQ..
PRO STOCKS: Rob Yetman, John Coonradt, Dan Older, Brandon Emigh, Nick Stone, Ed Thompson, Darrell Older, Jason Meltz, Matt Roberts, Kim Duell, Dan Madigan, Mike Baker, Nick Arnold, Doug Sheely, Scott Towslee, Brandon Gray, Dean Charbonneau, Jason Corbin, Yates Lansing.
LIMITED SPORTSMAN: Dave Richer, David Boisclair, Thomas Van Vorst Sr., Tucker O’Connor, Dylan Bokus, Bryce Breault, Johnny Bruno, Randy Myers Jr., Mike Furmont, Bryant Moore, Gerard Leclair, Jared Powell, Shane Larman, Bryan Jones Jr., Mark Rabideau, Dave LaBarge, Scott Bennett, Steve Burch, Montgomery Tremont, Spencer Rapp, Bill August, EJ McAuliffe, Jason Baker, Brett Hackel, Matt Rich, James Venditti Jr., Ron George Jr., Yule Cook.
STREET STOCKS: Randy Miller, Jimmy Duncan, John Filarecki, Mark Burch, Jeff Meltz Jr., Al Relyea, John Hayes, Pete Vila, Josh Hemming, Tom McFarland, David Cook.